Tag Archives: independent publishing

Saving Face – ebook

As Fictorians, we are all writers, so regularly we get to celebrate the release of a story through the various types of publishing channels.

Saving FaceToday, I am celebrating the release of Saving Face, released as an ebook in late August.  Although not my first completed novel, Saving Face is the first published.  Since we’re discussing meaningful plateaus this month, it’s a perfect time to announce this big milestone.

Saving Face:  In a near future where human bodies are rented, Sarah is one of the top-ten most requested models.  But when her employer tries to force her to sell her body permanently, she has to fight to escape before becoming the ultimate orphan.

The sci-fi/fantasy novella is the prequel to an alternate history trilogy expected to be released starting in 2014, and is available for only $0.99 on both Amazon and B&N.  Also available on my web site as a free download is a related short story – Face Lift.

You can find Saving Face and the free short story, along with links to other books and movies that resonate with the story at:  http://www.frankmorin.org/books/savingface/

I hope you enjoy it.  I’d love to hear what you think of it.



Here There Be Dragons: Maps in Fiction

Jon Roberts_portrait
Artist, Jonathan Roberts

Guest Post by Jonathan Roberts

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now.

A map shouldn’t be pretty.

I know what you’re thinking – those posters of Middle Earth are gorgeous. Of course a map should be beautiful! But for worldbuilding purposes a pretty map is a Very Bad Thing. Beautiful things are precious, and we tend to want to leave precious things pristine and untouched. When we’re building worlds we need to break things, and often. So, out with any thoughts that we’re making a pretty map. We’ll be making a functional map. In fact we’ll be making many maps, one after the other. In exactly the same way that your notes are not the final manuscript, a map isn’t the final world. It’s a visual notepad, and you should be crossing things out, erasing sections and rebuilding from scratch as you go along.

So we won’t be needing photoshop today, we need a pad of scratch paper and a pencil. Ready? Right, let’s build a world.

First of all, think about the world you need to build. In many cases this is a defined area that’s much smaller than the planet you’re on. Very few stories truly span a globe, so let’s begin by cutting down to the area that the story explores. This keeps the work focused on a reasonable area, and means there will always be distant and mysterious lands to explore down the line.

In your tale there will be nations, city states or power centers of some form. Start by making a note of their relationships to one another. Are they at war? Are they aloof? Do they feud over resources or are they closely allied? Think over the things that make them stand out. Are they famous for their expansive grain fields? Their iron? Their navy? I’m sure you can see the theme here. Nations are defined by the geography they inhabit as much as we define the geography by the nation. A nation with a large navy needs sea access, but it should also have natural defenses like a mountain range that allows the nation to neglect other military forces in favor of its navy. Two countries at war need to be close, and need to have a means of attacking one another.

Focus on major terrain at this point–how much coastline and mountain range. Make notes about other terrain that comes to mind–the tulip fields of Alak’tor, the salt mines of Keshel. Those will come in useful later.

It’s now time to start our map. Grab a pencil and faintly draw in circles where your nations are. Nations that are allies or at war should be close. Those that rarely interact should be farther away, or have an insurmountable natural barrier between them. Drawing circles on a map may sound easy, but this stage can take a few tries to get the relationships right.

Jon Roberts_1BasicLayout
Stage 1: Circles. Yes, these are 6 interconnected nations!

But circles aren’t really a map. Let’s draw some coastlines. Think about which of your nations need large coastlines and which should be landlocked. Then let your pen wander. Really – avoid straight lines. Coastlines are jagged and broken things. If your line doesn’t look like it was plotted by a drunken ant, you’re doing it wrong.

Step 2: The coastlines. Keep them broken and randomized.
Step 2: The coastlines. Keep them broken and randomized.

Now let’s lay in some mountains. Mountains tend to form ridges. Avoid the temptation to fill in whole blocks of land with mountains. Instead, lay them out in wavy lines. They often follow the edge of a coastline (think the Andes). From a story point of view, they form obstacles for your heroes and they create natural boundaries between nations, or between nations and the great unknown. Mountains also create boundaries between climates. So if you need a desert in one area and a jungle in the other, you’d better place a mountain range between them to stop the rain from the jungle getting to the desert.

Step 3: Mountains - they shouldn't be pretty, inverted triangles do the job just fine.
Step 3: Mountains – they shouldn’t be pretty, inverted triangles do the job just fine.

Next up, we have rivers. Rain falls on mountains and runs downhill to the sea. It always flows to the lowest point – and there’s always one lowest point. This means that rivers don’t branch as they flow to the sea, they only join. So – no rivers going from coast to coast. At some point that requires water to flow uphill. No lakes that have two separate rivers leading to the sea – remember, only one lowest point leading out. Think of a river like a tree. There’s one trunk where it enters the sea, but a panoply of branches reaching towards the mountains.

Rivers are also strategically important. There’s hardly a river mouth in the world without a town on it and most great cities lie on a river. If you know where your cities are going to be, make sure there’s a decent sized river flowing through them. Equally, rivers make great defenses. It’s hard to build a wall all the way along your nation’s border, but it’s almost as hard to get an army over a well-defended river as it is to have them scale a wall.

Step 4: As rivers run to the coast they only join, they never branch.
Step 4: As rivers run to the coast they only join, they never branch.

Add some hills to the edge of your mountain ranges. Lay in some forest and see how it looks. Remember, don’t be precious. If you don’t like it, start on a new sheet of paper. Sketch another coastline. Turn it upside down.

When you’re happy with the terrain, go over the pencil lines with pen, and erase the pencil–including your nation boundaries. Scan and photocopy the map. Go away and have some food.

When you come back, try the following experiment. Ignore your previous nations. Look at the virgin world with a new eye. If you were founding a country in the world, where would you start? What would be the key strategic choke points? Look at the world as if you were playing Civ. Where are the resources you need to defend, what lands would you try to annex? Use some colored pencils to sketch in different nations and boundaries. Edit the rivers if you need to, move things around. You’ve got lots of copies of the map–experiment.

Once you have a layout you like, we’ll add cities.

Step 5: Hills and Forests, add them wherever you see fit. These are easily moved.
Step 5: Hills and Forests, add them wherever you see fit. These are easily moved.

Cities are where they are for a reason. They don’t just appear up in the middle of nowhere. Population centers need food, water, trade and security. Rivers can provide all of  these, which is why towns and cities tend to spring up at river mouths. Locate your capitals in places that are easily defended and that have good transport connections to the rest of the nation. Place smaller cities in key locations, whether that’s in the heart of a mining community on the edge of a mountain range, at a key strategic river crossing, or a market town in the middle of leagues of prime cattle-ranching land. At this point, also mark in major fortifications.

Step 6: Place cities, towns and fortifications.
Step 6: Place cities, towns and fortifications.

With these indicated it’s a simple matter to place the roads. These will connect the major cities, the main food producing regions, and any other major trade routes.

You now have a perfectly functional map! But remember, nothing is set in stone. Each time you run through this process your map will be better. Each time you sketch the map you’ll have new ideas. As you continue to write about your world you’ll come up with new thoughts on what terrain you should have, how two countries relate across their border, where a great wilderness needs to be. Redraw the map – it’s there for you. Both your map drawing and your text will be better for the relationship between map and story.

And when your manuscript is ready to go from draft to final, your map will be ready to go from sketch to illustration. But that’s a post for another day.

Step 7: Colored and finished!
Step 7: Colored and finished!

If you want to learn about the art of mapmaking, then check out the Cartographers’ Guild, or my own tutorials.

Jonathan Roberts grew up in a old farmhouse between a ruined castle and a Bronze Age fort, so lands of the imagination were never far away. These days Roberts illustrates maps of real and imaginary worlds for a wide range of clients, from brides looking for an unusual wedding map, to the lands of Westeros and Essos for George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. Along with his own illustration work for books and games, Roberts has curated New York gallery shows of maps by illustrators around the world.

Putting Together an Indie Novel: From Concept to Completion, Part II

Guest Post by Michael Rothman

Certainly the first major milestone in writing a novel is getting the first draft complete. Oddly enough, this is sometimes the best time to take a step back from the manuscript and give yourself a little time away from it.

The reason I say this is because when you want to go through your initial self-editing phase, you probably want to approach the manuscript as a reader. Try to get a bit of a separation from the book.

Ultimately, you aren’t writing for yourself (or typically you aren’t), you are writing for an audience and you want to scrutinize your novel as a reader would. Given that, there are many folks who can speak much more authoritatively about the editing phases than I can, but suffice it to say that self-editing is a skill that should be learned by any aspiring author, but that shouldn’t be confused with not needing an editor.

This leads me to the first of the five topics I wanted to cover.

“¢ Editors – the folks who find the booboos, clean up the scrapes in your manuscripts, and teach you lessons you didn’t know you needed to learn.

Despite my relatively fewer years in the industry, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some of the best editors in the industry, you know who you guys are [Betsy, Pat, Joshua]. Given that experience, I can say that without a doubt, any author who hasn’t put their manuscript through professional-level editing is likely doing their readers a disservice.

o Authors Behaving Badly

 How would you react if someone told you your child was ugly, and stupid? Not well I’d imagine.

Well, what do you think your reaction would be like when you toiled over a manuscript only to get it back from the editor awash in red ink?

Many people’s first reaction is to throw a fit, call the editor all sorts of names, and maybe throw the nearest object against the wall.

Let me recommend something a little different.

“¢ Consider the feedback, let it soak in, don’t write that nasty e-mail you were about to write, and wait a day or two.

o Authors are a defensive lot. In many cases, they find it difficult to accept criticism of their work.

o Let’s be realistic and say that unless you’ve hired a complete cretin as your editor, they likely make a point or two you should consider.

o Had you really achieved perfection in your manuscript, you wouldn’t need an editor, people would be waiting for your golden words to spill out as you type them.

 Realize that you don’t know it all

“¢ Something that sounds good in your head, oftentimes doesn’t sound nearly as good in the written form.

“¢ Editors will point out things that you were otherwise blind to. Many times it isn’t because you’ve written something grammatically incorrect; perhaps the editor noted that using the word amazing five times in a single paragraph might be a touch overkill. A thesaurus is sometimes an author’s best friend.

“¢ A professional editor is simply trying to improve your manuscript inasmuch as helping it flow better, sound better, and be more intriguing to the audience that you’ve chosen. For instance, I had an editor point out a certain scene in one of my current novels that might have been too much for the age group I was targeting. After a fair amount of consideration, I agreed with her. And that leads me to the next point about the author/editor relationship.

o It is the Author’s book, not the editor’s

 As an Indie author, you ultimately control the words in the book. When you are with a publishing house, some of that control is not absolute.

 If an editor gives you feedback, they are oftentimes giving you either specific items that they felt were wrong or inconsistent, or they were speaking in general terms. Either way, it is the author’s decision if and how they act on that feedback.

“¢ If you generally agree with the editor’s comment, then by all means, go ahead and fix it.

“¢ However, if you don’t agree with the editor’s comment, make the call that you feel suits the story best, because sometimes the editor simply isn’t right.

o I’d note that I probably take 80% of the editor’s comments and do “something” with them. They usually bring a unique perspective as a different kind of reader that is invaluable in assessing your writing and the manuscript as a whole.
o Editors are the ultimate teachers of writing lessons

 I’ve learned more about writing from having to deal with the editor comments than I’ve learned from writing entire novels. I can’t stress enough how important a good quality editor is. Find one and don’t let go.

“¢ Book Covers

o As an Indie author, you will find yourself in a position to control how your novel is presented to the world. In real life, we say that a first impression is always very important. Well, your book’s first impression will inevitably be its cover.

Given that, unless you are artistically inclined, you will likely need to consult with someone on the creation of this cover. What typically happens in the publishing houses is that publisher engages with an artist and hands them the story or a particular section of the story and oftentimes a scene from the manuscript is pulled to represent the book.

Below is an example of just such a scene in my second book, Tools of Prophecy.

You’ll notice that it is a landscape picture intended to serve as a cover for a print book, so the portion on the right would be the front cover, and the portion on the left would wrap around toward the back. In this case, the scene is from a climactic portion of the story that was pulled from the finalized story material.


Clearly, for an e-book, you wouldn’t need the complete picture, but only the right-hand portion of this. Below is an example of the same illustration, but finalized for production purposes.


“¢ ISBN Acquisition

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is something you’ll inevitably have to acquire to sell your book. This is typically used to uniquely identify a book. Kind of like your driver’s license number uniquely identifies who you are, the ISBN number identifies what book a buyer or seller is dealing with. I’d note that even with a single title of a book (e.g. Tools of Prophecy) it likely has at least four different ISBN numbers. One for its paperback edition, another for a hardcover edition, another for a Kindle e-book, and another for a Nook e-book.

A very common purveyor of ISBN numbers is a placed called Bowkers. You can buy a single ISBN number from them, or 1000’s. The author’s/publisher’s choice.

“¢ E-book formatting

One thing that isn’t obvious for most people is the need for special formatting in an e-book. Even though there are hundreds of articles that talk in detail about the formatting requirements, there are some software utilities that make things very simple, and I strongly recommend looking into them (especially since they are free.)

Look at one in particular; a software package called Calibre.

Another thing that I can comment on, that I’ve rarely seen mentioned in articles is the need for a manuscript (even when using Calibre) to be conscious of how they use fonts. For instance, I have on the title page, a font with shadow effects that I really like the look of.


However if I were to use it as-is, the Kindle/Nook platforms would make the title page look like garbage.

The trick for this is to take a screenshot of the font on your computer, and in the .doc file you use for your e-book creation, embed the screenshot of the title as a graphic. This way, the e-book viewers will read the content and not attempt to translate it in some funky manner. It will look like you want it to.

“¢ Distribution methods

At this stage, you’ve written the book, you’ve gone through editing phases, and your hired gun of an editor has kicked you in the teeth and you’ve recovered. You have a cover that you don’t hate, and you even have an ISBN number, and the formatting of your book is complete. Pant…pant…pant… it’s been a long haul.

As an Indie author, I believe 90%+ of the volume you’ll likely see will come from e-book sales.

Why? Well, e-books are typically cheaper than print books, and in most cases, you’ll find it difficult to get print books in front of the noses of purchasers. Those are the facts as I see them.

Given that, I do have a few recommendations.

    • I’m a huge believer in the Amazon venue of distribution. No, I don’t own stock, nor am I an employee, nor do I know anyone who is one. From what I can tell, I’ve see easily ten times the volume of material goods moving through Amazon compared to its nearest competitor. I’ve seen this with my own books, and I’d guess others see similar things as well. That being said, I’ll only mention the three most commonly talked about distribution venues. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Google is your friend for details on each of these things, and in the smash allotted, I’d look up the keywords I mention here if they are unfamiliar.Even though I have seen a very distinct majority of sales through Amazon, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take advantage of other venues. I would certainly use Amazon’s KDP service (Kindle Direct Publishing) for making an e-book available. Also Barnes & Noble’s PubIt service is their equivalent of the same thing, just a slightly different technical format, both of which are supported by the Calibre software I mentioned earlier.
    • I’m personally not a big fan of Smashwords, though many people use it because of its simplicity. They take an extraordinary amount of money for services that almost anyone can do themselves – especially if you’ve gone through the trouble of getting an editor, cover artist, etc – I don’t personally see the advantage of using Smashwords for general purpose distribution. I would limit their use to target distribution areas that aren’t already covered by Amazon or B&N. In truth, you likely won’t be missing much if you don’t use them at all, but that’s strictly my opinion.

I hope this has been helpful, and if there are any questions, just let me know. As it is, I’m nearly double the word count that Joshua asked me to stick to–but I don’t always listen to my editors.

Mike has had a long career as an engineer and has well over 200 issued patents under his name spanning all topics across the technology spectrum. He’s traveled extensively and has been stationed in many different locations across the world. In the last fifteen years or so, much of his writing has been relegated to technical books and technical magazine articles.

It was only a handful of years ago that his foray into epic fantasy started, but Mike is a pretty quick study. He’s completed a trilogy, has a prequel under consideration with editors, and is actively working on another series.

In the meantime, if you want to see his ramblings, he lurks in the following social media portals:
Twitter – @MichaelARothman, Facebook, his blog, and his books.


Putting Together an Indie Novel: From Concept to Completion, Part I

Guest Post by Michael Rothman

 In this article, I plan on covering how an Indie author would go about taking an idea for a story, and cover some of the primary items an author should consider when they begin what might be a massive undertaking. Since there is a good amount of data that I’ll be covering, this article will be split into two bite-sized sections. The first covers topics such as knowing your audience, novel research, and realistic time allotment. All the things necessary when you consider writing that first draft.

The second part will cover the logistics of the publishing process: the author/editor relationship, creating of a book cover, acquiring an ISBN, and formatting of your manuscripts. I hope by the time you’re done reading the second article, you have a fair idea of what to expect, and sufficient pointers to get started on going from concept to completion.

For many would-be authors, the task of writing a novel may seem daunting. Let’s face the facts that 95% or more of the people who start writing a novel never finish.

“Why?” you might ask.

Well, I certainly can’t speak for most people — heck, I can barely speak for myself, but I do have a few opinions on the matter. A lot of this has to do with lack of pre-work and not realizing the investment of time that is required.

Let’s speak briefly about some of the things that a typical author needs to consider when they initially undertake the writing of a novel-length book.

  • Initial Concept
    • Most books start with a concept, some kind of idea that makes the author go, “Hmm! I’d love to write a story around that.”
    • That’s usually the easy part.
  • Who is your audience?
    • Some elements of what come next really depend on your audience.
      • Some people are confused about who they are writing for. Let’s realize that you are unlikely to write something engaging for a 2nd grader that is also entertaining for a college-age student. Your novel is unlikely to target everyone, so keep in mind what the demographic of the typical reader is that you are shooting for.
      • The age of your audience affects some of the things you have to worry about as an author. For instance, if you are writing for young children, they might be quite forgiving that you don’t know the difference between an arc-welder and a brazing torch.
    • Understand that if you are writing for certain age groups, there are taboos.babies
      • The easiest example is the introduction of certain mature topics in a children’s book. For instance, if you are writing MG, the concept of alcohol use is usually a no-no. I’ve had people criticize my work because I had thirteen-year-olds holding hands and give an occasional kiss on the cheek, with lots of blushing tossed in. Most people in the United States don’t realize how puritanical their audience is.
    • Many caveats are cultural. Sometimes we can’t help but stumble into things that are considered rude in other cultures. For instance in Thailand, if you touch someone with your left hand, that is somewhat equivalent to sneezing in their face. It’s considered unclean and rude.
  • Research
    • The older the audience, the more likely you are to have to research some things. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t experts in thirteenth century metalsmithing. However if you are going to write about someone who is a metalsmith, you can be guaranteed to find yourself being critiqued by readers who have been doing that stuff for forty years and feel you’ve maligned them in some core way by incorrectly describing the annealing process.
    • The thing to be certain about is your accuracy in the concepts you describe, and maintain a level of consistency across your story. If you are inconsistent, people will catch it and you’ll lose readers’ interest quickly. An example would be if Sonja’s hair is blonde in one chapter, auburn in the next, then back to blonde for the remainder of the story without any explanations. You’ll have readers harp on you incessantly. Rightfully so.
  • Organization
    • Architects vs Gardeners
      • How you organize your story is a somewhat religious topic amongst authors. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson use the terms architects and gardeners when describing how people organize or plan their stories, and I think that’s a very fair way of describing it.
      • As an architect, you tend to create an outline of sorts (the level of detail varies) which plots the inevitable storyline that you are creating. I find that this method is very useful for going through the mental exercise of where your story is going, and helps you avoid the pitfalls of writing yourself into a corner. Like Brandon, I happen to be one of these types, and can lay blame for my natural proclivity for it on my engineering background.

        Stephen King, gardener.
        Stephen King, gardener.
      • As a gardener, you start with a beginning and oftentimes a destination, and you grow the idea of your story more organically. You aren’t sure where it will take you, but you start writing and you continue to write until your story hopefully comes to a satisfying conclusion. I suppose the risk of this method of writing (which MANY people swear by) is that you are more prone to writing yourself into a corner. You might find a thread in a story that, once written, you realize doesn’t fit the rest of your overall book and either needs to be scrapped or rewritten.
    • As an architect, you’ll typically end up with a bunch of research, storyboarding, notes and miscellaneous fodder to begin the writing process.
  • Doing it
    • Time
      • Most people don’t realize how much time it really takes to write a novel. It’s easily hundreds of hours, minimum, for an average 90,000 word novel. That’s why people oftentimes start, get a couple pages into it, maybe a chapter or two, then discover that they really enjoy fishing instead.
    • Real Life
      • Your real life must be able to support the time required for doing it. This means that family has to be supportive of your investing time away from them. Let’s not forget most authors have a day job when they are starting out. Heck, many authors have been publishing books for decades and never stopped their primary job.

Now that you’ve gotten to this point, as an indie author, there are several logistical hurdles and processes that you need to undertake to go from the first draft to a distribution-ready book. We’ll discuss those at length in part II of this write-up on Friday.

Mike has had a long career as an engineer and has well over 200 issued patents under his name spanning all topics across the technology spectrum. He’s traveled extensively and has been stationed in many different locations across the world. In the last fifteen years or so, much of his writing has been relegated to technical books and technical magazine articles.

It was only a handful of years ago that his foray into epic fantasy started, but Mike is a pretty quick study. He’s completed a trilogy, has a prequel under consideration with editors, and is actively working on another series.

In the meantime, if you want to see his ramblings, he lurks in the following social media portals:
Twitter – @MichaelARothman, Facebook, his blog, and his books.